Singaporeans respect all races, but racism still an issue: Survey

Nearly all respondents feel all races should be treated equally, but many say they have experienced racism

Singaporeans celebrating National Day Parade 2016 at National stadium. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Singaporeans strongly support multiracialism and meritocracy, with nearly everyone saying they respect people from all races and that all races should be treated equally, according to a survey.

But almost half of them recognise that racism can be a problem and are aware there are a significant number who are at least mildly racist.

About 70 per cent of those interviewed reject outright discrimination, such as not hiring someone because of their race or religion, or insulting others because of race. They view such acts as racist, and say these actions are not acceptable at all.

The survey also found that Singaporeans are comfortable interacting with people of another race.

Most people across the races say they will accept a prime minister or president from another race. However, they admit they prefer such a leader to be of their own race.

This preference for one's own is seen in personal relationships as well: Singaporeans would rather their family members marry someone of the same race.

They also feel more at ease sharing their personal problems with a friend of the same race.

These differing attitudes of Singaporeans towards those of other ethnic groups, depending on activity and setting, were among the findings of a survey of 2,000 Singapore residents aged 21 and older.

Their racial composition and the types of homes they live in are reflective of the Singapore population, but an extra 500 Malays and Indians were polled so that their views were properly represented.

The survey was commissioned by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). It was first cited by CNA for its TV documentary Regardless Of Race, and released by the IPS yesterday.

A key finding is that all races strongly believe in meritocracy and racial equality.

Nine in 10 agree that anyone who works hard can become rich, no matter their race.

Two out of three disagree that the interests of the majority race should be looked after before those of the minority races.

This was the case even among the Chinese who, however, have different perceptions of how strongly other races are pushing for their cultural rights.

Nearly 30 per cent of Chinese feel that minority races are demanding more cultural rights, a view shared by almost 40 per cent of Malays.

At the same time, 40 per cent of minority respondents feel the Chinese are demanding more rights.

Racism persists

While the support for multiracialism is strong, many said they have experienced racism or indicate that they hold racist attitudes.

Six in 10 had heard racist comments, with almost half saying the comment was made by a colleague.

Singaporeans also showed a sharp contrast in attitudes, accepting people of other races on a casual, social level, but preferring those of their own race in personal and political settings.

Two-thirds of Chinese would invite Indians and Malays to their home for a meal. More than 80 per cent of Malays and Indians would invite people of other races to their home for a meal.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who led the study, said of the findings: "We have bought into the principles of meritocracy, but that does not mean we have removed all of our implicit biases."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline Singaporeans respect all races, but racism still an issue: Survey. Subscribe